Posted by: Damon Whitsell | July 13, 2010

Can we be equal with God? An Exegesis of Philippians 2:5-6

I have been participating in debates over at the CARM Mormon (LDS) Forum. This is a study done by THEO. Although this study is addressed to Mormons, it also addresses the way WoFers take Philippians 2:5-6 and other verses out of context to try to say that they are also Gods. At least Mormons only believe they are “gods in embryo”. This study does an excellent job of showing how Philippians 2:5-6 does not support the ideas of plural Gods/gods. Damon

Proper Exegesis

I think it goes without saying that Mormons can’t do exegesis. They “proof-text” their way around the Bible, using maybe (at best) one or two verse from any given book of the Bible, without any regard to their contextual meaning. This may be partly due to deception on their part, but I believe it is largely due to the fact that they have no experience with exegesis. They have a “lay ministry”, so their leaders (eg. stake presidents) aren’t taught how to do it, and their top leaders (eg. Monson, Packer) don’t do it by example, to show them how it’s done. (I would actually be interested in the perceptions of ex-Mormons about when and how they eventually learned to exegete texts of Scripture.

What is fascinating is that most people understand how to read written texts, such as books, letters, newspaper articles, blogs, discussion forum posts, and so on. But it seems to me that “Scripture” has a particular “stigma” to it, that one thinks that it’s an exception to the rule of starting from the beginning, and following a thought or line of argument from start to finish. Of course, this concept may be enabled due to the ideas of some who think God is “speaking to them” if they open up a Bible to a random page, and blindly point their finger to a particular verse. It is also “encouraged” by those who use Scripture citations as supporting their doctrines, when those reading the citations might not realize that the meaning of a particular verse is contingent on understanding the verse in its overall passage.

Fortunately, it is frequently necessary only to know the teachings of the Bible, and the methods of proper exegesis, to be able to demonstrate the inappropriate use of “proof-texts” by Mormons. Case in point:

A Favourite “Proof-Text”

Mormons often use Phil. 2:5-6 to try to support the Mormon blasphemy of “exaltation”:

Philippians 2:5: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Philippians 2:6: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

The attempted proclamation is clear:

1) Christ thought it “not robbery” (ie. justified) to be equal with God;
2) We are to have the “like mind” of Christ;
3) Therefore we should think we can/should be equal with God;

But when we need to address this “proof-text” argument, we need to consider a number of pertinent points:

1) What is the overall theme of Phil. 2? (How many Christians can answer this now? How many Mormons who use this proof-text can answer it?)

2) What precisely is the “like-mind” that Christians should have?

3) What is the meaning of the Greek word, “harpagmos”, translated “robbery” in verse 6?

4) How does the Mormon interpretation fit in with the rest of Scripture?

Overall Theme of Phil. 2

Read through Phil. 2 for yourself, and note all the references to humility:

Philippians 2:1: If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
Philippians 2:2: Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Philippians 2:3: Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Philippians 2:4: Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Philippians 2:5: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Philippians 2:6: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
Philippians 2:7: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
Philippians 2:8: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Philippians 2:9: Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
Philippians 2:10: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
Philippians 2:11: And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:12: Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

So we see that the theme of Phil. 2 is humility. Isn’t it strange that Mormons would argue that Paul is trying to argue that we should be of the mind of “exaltation” (a word that doesn’t even exist in the passage) while he’s trying to teach the church humility?

What is the “Like-Mind” of Christ?

What is truly sad about the Mormon proof-text is that in order to try to make their point, Mormons have to cut Paul off mid-sentence! Paul hadn’t finished describing Christ’s “like mind”, yet Mormons don’t want to let others hear the complete message:

Phil. 2:5: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

What did Christ do here?

He went from: “be[ing] equal with God”
He went to: “no reputation”;
………………“form of a servant”;
………………“humbled himself”;
………………“death on the cross”.

What did Christ do? He showed the ultimate humility, exactly in line with the overall theme of the passage, humility. And why did Paul add the parenthetical comment that Christ “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”? Because by showing how high Christ’s starting level was, that emphasized that Christ showed the ULTIMATE humility in condescending as far as he did. It takes humility for a sinful man to be obedient to death on the cross (look at some of the Christian martyrs), but how many million times more humble was Christ’s taking on a nature of a human servant, and dying a death He did not deserve. It’s the ultimate humility.

And that humility is the “like mind” that Christians are exhorted to hold, not “exaltation”.

“Harpagmos” – Robbery?

The Greek word “harpagmos” is translated as “robbery” in the KJV. If you have access to them, you know that it is translated as “something to be grasped” in modern translations (NIV, NASB, ESV, etc.)

Phil 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (ESV)

I don’t think it’s difficult to see the relationship, since “robbery” is the act of “grasping” someone else’s possessions. It seems clear, however, that when one keeps in mind the overall theme of Phil. 2, “humility”, the rendering of “something to be grasped”, or “something to be held onto” more accurate reflects the two-fold meaning of (1) it was a position held by Jesus, and (2) Jesus felt it appropriate to not hang onto it, but to humble himself in the incarnation.

I don’t mind the rendering of “not robbery”, since as it pertains to Jesus it is completely true. But it is not part of our “like mind”. Our “like mind” is to be humble, following the example of Jesus. The “not robbery to be equal with God” was simply to emphasize the extreme of Christ’s act of humility.

Does the Mormon “Proof-text” Fit Mormon Theology?

This is more of an addendum than anything else, as it doesn’t directly reflect on the meaning of the passage, but it does affect the laissez-faire way Mormons try to concatenate “proof-texts” without any regard for consistency in their beliefs.

Mormonism asserts that “Jesus is equal to God”. But in Mormon theology, this isn’t true. According to the doctrine of “eternal progression”, Jesus will always be trailing God in progression.

We are to be of “like mind” which means that we are to believe that we too are “equal to God”. Yet we are all that more far behind Jesus, who is Himself behind God in “exaltation”. So that isn’t true either.

Mormonism teaches that one gets exalted from humanity, to “godhood”. “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” — Lorenzo Snow. Yet this passage teaches that Jesus was “equal to God” before the incarnation, before becoming man, the exact opposite as is taught in Mormonism.

——————————————————————————

The “proof-texts” of cults such as Mormonism can usually be seen through by properly exegeting the text, walking through it, and seeing what it actually says. In fact, all Bible study should have this as the heart of its methodology.

The Bible is not some “Collection of Holy Fortune Cookies”, one word “verse-truths” that are to be taken and interpreted as if they stood on their own, without any surrounding context, as if it was a “message of the day” inside a fortune cookie. Each verse retains its meaning as part of the larger surrounding context. It’s okay to quote or cite single verses, but only in the light of their contextual meaning.

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